Tag Archives: Girl power

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I Am Malala“‘Who is Malala?’” the gunman demanded on that fateful day, October 9, 2012, before he shot three bullets into a bus carrying teenage girls to school. Unable to answer then, Malala answers now in her new memoir for all the world to read: “I am Malala and this is my story.”

Years before she became “the girl who stood up for education and was shot by the Taliban,” readers may be surprised to learn that Malala was already an international ambassador-in-the-making. Even if the bullet that “went through [her] left eye socket and out under [her] left shoulder” was what put her in the glaring spotlights, her determination to get an education – not only for herself, but for all girls in her village, her country, and beyond – was nurtured early: at 11, she wrote about her life under Taliban control  for BBC Urdu under an assumed name for her safety; at 12, she was featured with her father in a documentary, “Class Dismissed: The Death of Female Education,” by Adam B. Ellick and Irfan Ashraf for The New York Times website; at 14, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated her for KidsRights‘ 2011 International Peace Prize (which she subsequently won in 2013), and Pakistan awarded her the country’s first ever National Peace Prize. On her 16th birthday, following her hard-won recovery, she addressed the United Nations in New York; she became the youngest person to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Co-written with Christina Lamb, one of the world’s most lauded journalists, I Am Malala is a page-turning revelation. That said, for the most effective experience, choose to go audible. Malala herself reads the “Prologue,” which chronicles that fateful last day in her native Pakistan: “… I left my home for school and never returned.” The British actress, Archie Panjabi, seamlessly takes over as narrator and never falters.

That a 16-year-old’s life can fill a 300-plus page book with so much history, family saga, tragedy, joy, and inspiration, is a remarkable feat. To become such a renowned public figure so young will surely prove to be both a blessing and a challenge. “By giving me this height to reach people, [my Allah] has also given me great responsibilities,” she writes with earnest purpose. “Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country – this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish.”

For all that she’s accomplished thus far, what she might/can/will do as a mature adult should include dreams achieved, rights guaranteed, and wishes fulfilled. Here’s to the next spectacular volume of multiple memoirs to come.

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Audio, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Pakistani

Razia’s Ray of Hope: One Girl’s Dream of an Education by Elizabeth Suneby, illustrated by Suana Verelst

Razia's Ray of HopeThe newest title in Canada’s Kids Can Press‘ vital CitizenKid series – “books that inform children about the world and inspire them to be better global citizens” – is also quite possibly the best thus far.

“‘This is where my school once stood … It was destroyed by seventeen years of war,’” Razia’s grandfather gently explains about Afghanistan’s too-recent history. In an empty lot where a lone cornerstone now stands, change is coming: “‘They are building a new school … for girls,’” Baba gi reveals, causing Razia to beg her grandfather to convince the other men in their family to allow her to attend. Already, clever young Razia has taught herself to read just by listening to her younger brothers’ nightly studying – she only needs the chance to learn more.

“‘Some of you are too young to remember, and some of you were not even born,’” Baba gi opens a family meeting, “‘but before the occupation of our country, before the civil wars and before the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were educated. They were doctors, government workers and journalists. It is time to give your daughters and granddaughters … the chance to read and write. Our family will be stronger for it.’” Yet Baba gi’s eloquence is not enough to get Razia enrolled, as her oldest brother ends the discussion with “four simple words [that] made [her] heart sink”: “‘Razia is not going.’”

In spite of his decree, Razia refuses to give up: after finishing her chores the next morning, she walks to the newly-built school and knocks on its red door. A smiling woman who not only shares Razia’s name, but her commitment to education, invites Razia in … and changes her life forever.

Beyond the book’s title, Razia’s Ray of Hope is also the name of a real-life foundation, founded in 2007 by a Afghan-born American woman named Razia Jan, who returned to Afghanistan to run her Zabuli Education Center which thus far has provided “free education to more than 400 Afghan girls who were previously denied educational opportunities.” Meeting Razia Jan in livetime inspired author Elizabeth Suneby to write this uplifting story; artist Suana Verelst manages to capture just the right blend of past and future with her mixed media collages she describes as “‘a quilter combining recycled elements with modern technology.’”

With 69 million school-age children out of school, the numbers are clearly daunting. By providing education to hundreds of girls, one woman is creating better lives for the thousands more who will also benefit: “women who are literate tend to have better incomes, housing and health care. And in turn, they provide these things for their families and communities. Everyone benefits from educating women.” Join Razia and create hope: girl power will make the world a better place.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Afghan, Nonethnic-specific

Line 135 by Germano Zullo, illustrated by Albertine

Line 135Clearly this image is not doing justice to the book’s spirited cover with its bright lime green train and fluorescent orange doors. To appreciate its vibrancy is reason enough to go find the real book! See that jauntily ponytailed, smiling little girl? She’s definitely inviting you to join her whimsical, thoughtful adventure …

“There are two places I belong in the world,” the girl explains – her house in the city and her grandmother’s home in the country. Her mother has helped her board the train to visit her grandmother who lives “practically on the other side of the world.” Savvy traveler that she already is, someday, the little girl is going to go “everywhere” and “know the entire world.” Her mother and grandmother warn that’s “impossible … it’s difficult enough to know yourself.” But the tenacious child rightfully insists, “when I am big, I will make sure that life moves with me.”

Contrary? Courageous? “I will go everywhere,” she asserts. She doesn’t need to wait to be “big” to know her future: “I will go here. I will go there. I will go this way and I will go that way. I will know the entire world.” With youthful exuberance, she affirms, “it is possible.” She’ll make you believe …

Beyond author Germano Zullo’s encouraging, inspiring prose, Line 135 is a visually enchanting delight. The titular ‘line’ travels directly across every page, each double spread enhanced with black-and-white, pen-drawn, exquisitely detailed views of changing landscapes as the technicolor train journeys from city to country. That the ’135′ is made up of three prime numbers in sequence – 1, 3, 5 – seems to be a nod to the indivisible connectedness of family (mother and grandmother literally ground both ends of the line from start to finish) in the midst of going here and there and everywhere.

“When you move between two places, it’s called traveling,” the wise young girl explains, as illustrator Albertine felicitously complies with beckoning scenes of stretched skyscrapers, mod shopping districts, stacked apartments, busy factories, overcrowded superhighways … that soon give way to gracious homes, wildflowered fields, uniquely rotund animals, and a few chimerical places that just might be out of this world. Echoing a child’s endless imagination, words and pictures work intricately together to remind us to never let limits keep us from going forth … onward ho, indeed!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European

One Step at a Time : A Vietnamese Child Finds Her Way by Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

One Step at a TimeIntroduced to U.S. readers by award-winning Canadian author Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch in last year’s Last Airlift: A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War, Son Thi Ahn Tuyet’s story continues – literally one step at a time. Now that Tuyet has a real home with her own real family – Dad, Mom, sisters Beth and Lara, and baby brother Aaron – she’s learning to finally feel safe. Nighttime still remains a bit scary when memories of war and tragedy return to haunt her dreams; no matter how nice her own room is, for now, Tuyet prefers to sleep safely “burrowed into her nest of pillows and covers on the throw rug between Beth and Lara’s beds.”

In addition to adapting to her new family and struggling to understand a culture so different from the one she left in a language she hasn’t yet learned, Tuyet prepares for some of the greatest physical challenges of her young life. The beautiful new red shoe and soft red slipper Mom bought for her polio-damaged feet and legs have already filled Tuyet’s heart with joyful smiles. Now Tuyet faces the first of multiple operations that will someday allow her to walk. In the 1970s, hospital rules did not allow for constant parental interaction as is today’s accepted norm; remarkably, Tuyet endured her surgeries virtually alone.

Thankfully, recovery proved to a full family affair: the whole Morris family not only made Tuyet physically comfortable, but each ensured that she was emotionally buoyed as well. From learning to blow out birthday “fire” and realizing that the beautiful wrapping paper is meant to be torn, to not grabbing her baby brother and seeking shelter at the sound of an airplane, to being able to balance well enough on her own two legs to kick a soccer ball, Tuyet takes her new life – and her steadily recovering legs – one glorious, triumphant step at a time.

“Thank you, Tuyet,” Skrypuch writes in her ending “Author’s Note,” “for allowing me to share your story.” Readers, too – especially younger readers who might be facing any sort of adversity – will surely appreciate Tuyet’s inspiring experiences. Step by step, Skrypuch shows with forthright clarity how Tuyet becomes her own very best hero.

Tidbit: Here’s an update (with pictures!) from Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch herself!

Last year, Last Airlift won the Red Cedar award in British Columbia and was a [2013] Red Maple Honour Book in Ontario. These awards are readers’ choice awards, where kids do the voting. For the Red Maple award, the Ontario Library Association hosts a huge event at Harbourfront in Toronto, with thousands of kids bussed in. I arranged for Tuyet to stand on the stage with me, and for her daughter to hold the sign and her son to introduce the book. We had long snaking line-ups for autographs, and many of the kids wanted Bria and Luke to sign their books in addition to me and Tuyet signing them. I’ve got some photos on my website. Check it out here:
♦   Last Airlift signing with Tuyet and her kids
♦   Red Maple Day at Harbourfront
♦   Tuyet and Red Maple Day

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Canadian, Canadian Asian Pacific American, Southeast Asian, Southeast Asian American, Vietnamese American

Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg

Serafina's PromiseSerafina, who lives in the outskirts of Haiti’s Port-au-Prince, has never had the chance to go to school. With rarely enough to eat, her family has nothing left over to pay the school fees, much less buy the required uniform. While her father works at a city grocery store, her pregnant mother and widowed grandmother Gogo grow herbs they sell on a city street corner. Exhausted from carrying water, chopping wood, and more, Serafina dreams of getting an education and becoming a doctor: at 11, she is well aware, “Education is the road to freedom.

When the family’s hut is swept away by a sudden flood, her family manages to survive while many others do not. Serafina’s parents rebuild on higher ground, where they welcome baby Gregory. Having previously lost infant brother Pierre to malnutrition, the family is constantly concerned for Gregory’s fragile health.

Determined to start school in the new year, Serafina devises a plan to fill an empty jar with extra coins that will pay for her tuition. She has to double her walks to collect extra water for the plants Gogo will help her grow – and later sell – but she knows that all the hard work will take her to a promising new future.

Like her award-winning all the broken pieces, Ann E. Burg presents Serafina’s story as a lyrical novel in verse. Burg remarkably renders the difficulties, tragedies, and joys Serafina experiences into spare, essential phrases, creating a resonating example of less is more. To read both all the broken pieces and Serafina’s Promise is to appreciate their elliptical beauty, even as you’re both disturbed and inspired by the young protagonists’ tenacity and resilience. Don’t miss either.

Tidbit: In case you needed any more prodding to pick up Serafina, here are two more reasons: Haitian People’s Support Project and Pure Water for the World, where Burg is donating a portion of her royalties. Read well, do good.

Readers: Middle Grade

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, .Fiction, .Poetry, Caribbean, Nonethnic-specific

A Very, Very Noisy Tractor by Mar Pavón, illustrated by Nívola Uyá, translated by Jon Brokenbrow

Very, Very Noisy TractorAn unnamed lady with “an enormous beehive hairdo” – in glorious auburn, no less! – chugs down the road … on a tractor. The “colossal” noise the tractor makes allows her to ignore the pizza delivery boy who yells, “‘Ladies with crazy hairdos shouldn’t drive tractors!’” She chugs along, passing an old woman who thinks the lovely redhead’s eyeglasses are a hindrance to driving, a postman who objects to her blue raincoat, a builder who finds fault with her rubber boots. Sheesh! Everyone’s got an unasked-for opinion!

The one person she can hear is a little boy full of questions – because “the sound of a little boy or little girl yelling is just  … deafening!” She patiently addresses his open curiosity, and explains she must be on her way because her husband has a delicious dinner waiting at home. When her young daughter declares during their festive meal that she, too, intends to be a tractor-driving farmer just like her adventurous mother, she offers the very best advice: “‘make sure that your tractor is very, very noisy – so noisy that you can’t hear the silly things people shout at you.’”

Author Mar Pavón’s comically entertaining story provides serious inspiration to dream big (and loudly!) and listen to your own inner compass rather than the absurd chatter too many others are too willing to blather. Artist Nívola Uyá’s outrageously energetic illustrations can hardly keep our boot-kickin’ hero on the page as she thunderously tractors on home to the great loves of her life: “… everyone knows, you don’t hear the sounds of love with your ears, but with your heart.” That’s a simple truth we can all believe in!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, European

The Rent Collector by Camron Wright

Rent CollectorAllow me to begin with an intriguing tidbit and a cringe-inducing warning …

Thumbs up: The Rent Collector is a father’s novel inspired by his son’s documentary, River of Victory. Not only is the story based on the experiences of real-life family, even many of the names appear unchanged. If you choose the page, you’ll be rewarded at book’s end with a bonus section of photos that speak further volumes.

Thumbs stuck in the mud: If you go audible, get ready to practice your eyeball-rolling – Diane Dabczyniski narrates with supposed-to-sound-Asian accents. The thoughtless implication is that the characters are unable to fluently speak their own language! Ironically, she stumbles through the names of people and places in the one language that required accuracy, Khmer, the official language of Cambodia. The result is inexcusable – author Camron Wright even provides a “Pronunciation Guide” on his highly detailed website. Again, audible producers: accuracy can be but a speedy Google search away!

Welcome to Stung Meanchey, Cambodia’s largest garbage dump, located on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, the country’s capital. Sang Ly, her husband Ki Lim, and their baby Nisay, live in a hovel in the dump, surviving day-to-day from what they can salvage and sell. They regularly struggle to pay the bitter, alcoholic Sopeap Sin, the dump’s titular rent collector. They are short again this month, their rent money spent on treatments for the chronically sickly Nisay.

In the midst of her latest ranting demands, Sopeap notices a precious book on the hovel’s floor that Ki Lim recently rescued. The sight of the children’s story causes the most unexpected reaction from Sopeap, as she flees in shattered tears. Sang Ly realizes that Sopeap can read, and she strikes a deal with the angry old woman to teach her the same. Sang Ly is sure of one thing: literacy is the path out of poverty, and the only lasting way to save her young son.

That Wright had detailed access to his son’s documentary gives his novel an overall sense of authenticity, although the narrative is not without the occasional missteps that might remind the reader that Wright is not a young Cambodian mother trapped in a city of garbage: would a person of the dumps know about fanciest restaurants in France; would she ever think in terms of parenting awards? Inconsistencies aside, The Rent Collector is a sprawling story populated with tragic characters (a young girl whose brother is determined to sell her into prostitution), horrific history (the inhumanity of the Khmer Rouge), and grave uncertainty (the dumps are only growing). While the novel doesn’t quite rival the beloved literature that Sopeap reverently introduces to the hungry Sang Ly, Wright’s unembellished, straight-forward prose is a story well-told … a story of grace for a life redeemed, of gratitude for a few lives saved, and ultimately of unwavering hope for a better future.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Cambodian, Nonethnic-specific, Southeast Asian

Bad Girls: Sirens, Jezebels, Murderesses, Thieves, & Other Female Villains by Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple, illustrated by Rebecca Guay

Bad GirlsIf beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, then perhaps bad behavior might be, too. “In this book we are taking a look back through history at all manner of famous female felons,” write mother/daughter author-team Jane Yolen and Heidi E. Y. Stemple (who, between them, have hundreds and hundreds of titles). From as far back as 110 BCE to the 20th century, Bad Girls includes 26 women who have quite the historical rap sheet. But were they all really that bad? “Every crime – no matter how heinous – comes with its own set of circumstances, aggravating and mitigating, which can tip the scales of guilt. And views change.”

Salome, she of the dance of the seven veils who was rewarded with the head of John the Baptist on a platter, might have been just 10 or 11 (!!) and easily manipulated by the adults around her. Bloody Mary was a highly educated, sought-after Princess who was declared suddenly illegitimate, then banished at the whim of her own philandering father King Henry VIII. The slave Tituba, who only did her young charges’ bidding, could only escape hanging if she confessed to being a witch. Madame Alexe Popova helped desperate wives off their cruel husbands – over 300 of those bad boys. Typhoid Mary was never ill herself, but she was a typhoid carrier who wouldn’t let the doctors fix her infection-ridden gallbladder, even for free … if you were healthy, would you submit to the knife?

Decades, centuries, millenia later, how might these women be judged now? “As our world changes, so does our definition of bad,” Yolen and Stemple remind us. “[Y]ou will have to decide for yourself if they were really bad, not so bad, or somewhere in the middle. And perhaps you will see that even the baddest of bad girls may have had a good reason for what she did.”

Admittedly a page-turner – like a mangled train wreck, you can’t look away, except to flip the page – Bad Girls is a unique hybrid of short biographies with a graphic twist: each chapter ends with a graphic novel/manga-style conversation (hurray for Rebecca Guay‘s multi-varied ease in changing styles) between mother and daughter, debating the good, bad, and the often ugly circumstances. Their exchanges are cutesy, off-the-cuff, albeit with a few too many predictable quips – “The Tudors were a nasty bunch. Always sneaking and scheming” gets the expected reply, “Rather like modern politicians.” Yolen seems to be the older, wiser voice while Stemple is quick with her 21st-century judgments of “icky” and apparently more concerned about her wardrobe (her shoe-obsession – misplaced attempt at humor? – seems totally out-of-place). That said, let the bad girls speak for themselves. Read at your own risk … then be sure to decide for yourself.

Tidbit: Younger readers might better enjoy The Thinking Girl’s Treasury of Dastardly Dames, a thus-far seven-title collection featuring women who lived by their own rules (the series and Bad Girls have Cleopatra and (Bloody) Mary Tudor in common). Older readers should definitely check out this TEDxVancouver talk, “The Sociology of Gossip,” about what gossip – especially about supposedly badly-behaved women – says about our so-called modern society. It’s an eye-, ear-, and brain-opener!

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Biography, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific

Global Baby Girls by The Global Fund for Children

Global Baby Girls“Cherish baby girls around the world,” the back cover rightfully demands. And who could possibly resist the red-cheeked cuddlebug from Russia, the laughing wonder from Peru, the bejeweled bundle from India, the kitty-hugger (never mind the beast himself) from New Zealand, the intrepid explorer (with a live crawfish!) from right here in the U.S.?

And yet, as The Global Fund for Children soberly reminds us, “Baby girls are precious, but they are not valued everywhere.” Which is why partial sales of this perfect-for-little-hands-to-hold board book go directly “to support innovative community-based organizations that provide opportunities to grow, thrive, and be strong.” To increase your feel-good investment, you could also consider the irresistible companion title, American Babiesfor double the adorable fun.

“Wherever they are born, girls are beautiful, strong, bold, and bright. Baby girls can grow up to change the world.” Truth, indeed! Although I might cross out the ‘can’ and add my own ‘will‘ – with committed emphasis, too! Girl power all the way!

Tidbit: Want to learn more about girl power? Check out the trailer for the upcoming film, Girl Rising, brought to you by 10×10. Educate girls, and they will change the world.

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Nonfiction, Nonethnic-specific

Prophecy [Book 1 of Prophecy Series] by Ellen Oh + Author Interview

As the mother of three young girls, Ellen Oh is constantly on the lookout for good books that showcase female empowerment. She’s found a few here and there – say, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins, The Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson, The Hero and the Crown and The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley, and maybe a few others – but to ask for characters with whom her Korean American daughters might directly identify seemed too tall an order. So the former entertainment lawyer and adjunct college professor decided to write her own: Prophecy, the first of a planned trilogy, debuts this month.

“People feared Kira,” the heart-thumping, fantastical young adult novel begins. With her yellow eyes and unprecedented fighting skills, Kira is hardly the average teenager, much less the picture of modesty and subservience befitting a court royal. Her uncle the King considers her a “freak of nature, and a terrible embarrassment to the royal family,” and yet he must rely on her warrior strength to protect his only son and royal heir.

Throughout a fantasy version of third-century Korea, demons, imps, hobgoblins, and shamans threaten the entire peninsula, falling the seven kingdoms one by one. In Kira’s home kingdom of Hansong, evil forces are moving through the ranks, possessing even once-trusted officials. The horrific events that the great ancestor, the Dragon King, prophesied are proving true: “Seven will become three. Three will become one. One will save us all.”

When and how did the idea for your Prophecy trilogy come to you? Did Kira arrive fully formed like Athena? Or did you struggle to bring her to life?
Kira and [her cousin Prince] Taejo were the easiest characters for me to write, because they did literally spring out of my head, much like Athena – I love that analogy, by the way. I like pretending I’m Zeus! The cousins arrived fully formed, with very specific details about how I wanted them to be. When the idea for Prophecy first came to me, it was about a young prince who is believed to be the hero of a legend. But as the legend progresses, his female cousin – who is also his bodyguard and a far better warrior – turns out to be the true hero. I initially wrote Prophecy from Taejo’s perspective, but he was coming out too whiny and jealous. That changed when the point of view switched over to Kira’s. That’s when the story became more alive, moved faster, and became more relatable, at least to me. Which makes sense because the story was always about Kira – I just had to let her tell it.

Besides the shift in perspective, did the story change in other ways over the various revisions?
I think, overall, the story became more emotional. As a writer, I tend to be oriented more toward action, action, action. Both my agent and editor were really good at making me pause and ask, “Yeah, but what does Kira feel when this happens, or that happens?” I always knew the “how” and “what,” but during the revision process, I had to really work on expressing Kira’s reactions, her emotions.

Besides the obvious fact of your Korean ancestry, why did you choose to set your first novel in ancient Korea? As a fantasy writer, you pretty much have unlimited freedom as to where and when.
I chose ancient Korea for two specific reasons: the first was just practical – I couldn’t find anything like a fantasy adventure story set in ancient Korea in libraries or bookstores; the second was more personal – ancient Korea was such a fascinating, turbulent time with kingdoms changing, collapsing, being taken over, dealing with amazing politics and endless intrigue. But the specific moment I realized I had to write about ancient Korea was when I read a Genghis Khan biography and came to a point in the book when the Mongols invade Korea, and the entire royal court flees to Ganghwa Island (which is at the mouth of the Han River), where the Mongols aren’t able to cross the river to get to them. The Korean leaders are out there laughing, while the poor peasants are getting raped and killed by the Mongols. And then the royals, who’ve been safe and sound in their island fortress, come back to tax the hell out of the peasants and steal all their food. All those layered dynamics between the haves and have-nots were just so visual, interesting, and ultimately inspiring to me. That was feudal society at its best – from my perspective as someone who’s interested in the history – and at its worst – from a human perspective because you really see the worst of what people in power do to their citizens. And through it all, the common peasants endure and survive. [... click here for more]

Author interview: Feature: “An Interview with Ellen Oh,” Bookslut.com, January 2013

Readers: Middle Grade, Young Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ...Author Interview/Profile, ..Middle Grade Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, Korean, Korean American